Copyright licensing is a critical part of any media production work.
Copyright gives the author of an original work rights for a certain period in relation to that work, including its publication, distribution and adaptation. After a defined time, depending on national laws (usually the life of the author plus 50 years or more), the work eventually enters the ‘public domain’ and anyone has the right to use it.
By default, copyright laws are set at ‘all rights reserved’. This means that no one has the right to do anything with this work without the explicit permission of the copyright holder, except where other 'fair use' laws prevail. This means you need to be very careful if you are using someone else’s work (such as photographs, text from books, stills from a website, music, audio-visual material and so on).
You should check what copyright license has been used for any content you want to use in your media. Unless this license states that you can use the content in the way you want to, or it is already in the public domain, you need to ask permission to use it. If you do not, you may have to withdraw your media from the public domain and you may even be found liable for breaching copyright law and have to pay compensation.
Have a look at this creative example drawn from Disney movies that explains the irony of the situation: A Fair(y) Use Tale
Similarly, you need to think about how you want other people and organisations to use the materials you create, and choose licenses accordingly. The materials that you produce will, of course, also fall under copyright laws.
You should also consider copyright when commissioning materials to be made, and be clear about this when drawing up contracts. When you are making human rights-based materials, you probably want to give other people more freedom to use your content than the standard 'all rights reserved' copyright. You may want people to distribute and share your materials, to promote your cause more widely. You may want them to re-mix your content or adapt it for a local audience. To do this, there are several kinds of licenses available that you may assign to your media. These are known broadly as 'open content licenses'.
Open Content licensing
Instead of assigning an ‘all rights reserved’ copyright you can instead state that there are ‘some rights reserved’ or even ‘no rights reserved’, by using Open Content licensing. It makes sense to use Open Content licenses if you want to make information and knowledge freely available and put it in the hands of people, and in the public domain. You should always license your work in a way which allows people to use it in the way you want it to be used.
There are several sorts of open content licenses which you can use, such as a Free Art License, Common Documentation License, Open Audio License, Creative Commons License, Open Content and Open Publication License.
Creative Commons licenses
This is the most common Open Content licensing system used today. The Creative Commons website allows you to choose the license that's right for you by asking a series of simple questions.
When using creative commons licenses, there are four key areas of copyright permissions that you can choose to 'give away' or keep:
Attribution – Users must attribute your work in the way you have specified.
Share-Alike – Users must license their own ‘derived work’ using the same sort of license you have used.
No derivative works – The work may not be modified in any way.
Non-commercial – The work may not be used for commercial purposes.
You can use a mix of these license requirements to suit your needs. Tactical Tech, for example, used an 'Attribution Share-Alike Non-commercial' license for Message in-a-box so as to allow people to translate it, re-mix it, publish and distribute it freely, so long as they do so for non-commercial purposes and they provide appropriate credit to Tactical Tech as the original publishers. Read this guide for more details on how best to attribute Creative Commons-licensed content.
Using the Creative Commons licensing system, you can also define the ‘jurisdiction’ of your license, depending on the country you are in, so as to accommodate local copyright laws.
To let others know that you are using a Creative Commons license, you can use the Creative Commons logos. When you choose a license, you are provided with a logo and HTML text so you can add the license information to your site.